GP super clinic under pressure

THE federal government’s long-awaited GP super clinic may be toppled by private operators who plan to start a late-opening, bulk-billing surgery by March.

After two years of relatively little action from the government since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s October 2007 promise of the $5 million clinic, Bundaberg Plaza owners Anagaet Property Management have announced their own plans for a new medical centre.

Anagaet practice manager Karen Connelly said the group was completing some of the last paperwork and documentation to get the project under way.

“It has been going really well. We’ve been contacted by a couple of doctors and allied health professionals. We are looking at having five doctors in the centre and plan to have a focus on indigenous health,” she said.

Ms Connelly said the centre wanted to work with local hospitals and other health providers.

The medical centre plans to bulk bill all customers and will open seven days a week from 8am to 10pm, providing some competition for after-hours medical service stalwart the Friendly Society Private Hospital, which has recently raised its fees (see story, page 2).

The news comes as the government sorts through new applicants for its GP super clinic, after the only applicant in the first round of tenders was not deemed suitable. There is also no guarantee new applicants will offer bulk billing or an after-hours service.

The NewsMail understands at least five local groups have now expressed an interest in running the clinic since the federal Department of Health and Ageing held a closed-doors meeting with health service organisations in Bundaberg in mid December.

Among them are believed to be GP Links Wide Bay, the Indigenous Wellbeing Centre and Bundaberg Health Promotions.

A spokesperson for the department would not confirm the number of parties who had expressed an interest, nor could they say when an applicant would be appointed to run the clinic.

Because several groups have expressed an interest, formal applications are now being called for, with the application process closing WITHIN nine to 10 weeks.

“The timeframe to establish clinics will be subject to the nature and extent of the capital works required and other factors such as local council building approvals. The capital works may comprise a refurbishment of an existing building or the construction of a new facility,” the spokesperson said.

Bundaberg Health Promotions spokesman Dr Martin Strahan said it was unlikely anyone running the super clinic would be able to solely bulk bill.

“The GP super clinic has to be viable and it is difficult to see how you can maintain an after-hours clinic and bulk bill when you have all those services,” he said.

Dr Strahan warned the super clinic may not boost the number of GPs in Bundaberg.

“There are 70 GPs in town. With the GP super clinic there is no way of knowing whether those would be new GPs or GPs already in the area,” he said.

Member for Hinkler Paul Neville said he was frustrated with the “never-ending negotiations, talks, changes and delays” with the clinic.

“If the local model has been ‘massaged’ to the point where it won’t offer after-hours services or bulk billing, then what is the point of it?” he said.

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